January 16, 2009
This is an excellent journaling exercise that can be adapted to any topic at any time. The entirety of the exercise is to find a difficult or complicated topic. Ask yourself a question about that topic and then write out 100 responses to that question.
For lots of people, one hundred sounds like a huge number for a writing exercise, but once you start thinking about the issue in smaller increments, you might be pleasantly surprised with how many thoughts come to mind so quickly. Most people find this exercise easier to do than they realize. On really big or complex topics, one hundred might not be enough. If you want to keep going past one hundred, please do so.
This exercise is good when you do not have an immediate or direct answer for your struggle. Start with listing the peripheral, simple reasons, and as you write more and more, you will likely reach more specific and complex answers to your concern.
Or this exercise is good to use when you feel like you are flooded with too many answers. Writing out every option that comes to mind can help to organize your thoughts and validate your big feelings.
Any of the following questions could be your starting point:
- What are 100 things that are on my mind right now?
- When I am feeling overwhelmed what 100 things are bothering me?
- What are 100 things that frighten me?
- What are 100 things that I am angry about?
- What are 100 positive things that happened when I was a child? (100 negative things? 100 harmful things? 100 helpful things?)
- What are 100 things that I like and enjoy?
- What are 100 things I wish I could say to my mother (father) but can’t or won’t?
- What are 100 things I wish my parents had handled better for me?
You can pick the topic and make the question relative to whatever you are experiencing at the time. Pick an issue that you are addressing in therapy now. Use this process to help sort through your thoughts and feelings.
The purpose of such a long list is to take sufficient time to get past the surface obvious answers to your question and to get into the deeper more subconscious answers to your question. Plus, the self-expression and self revelation required to do this exercise make it an interesting task. Breaking down any huge emotion, or any complex situation, or any frightening topic into smaller chunks will help you to develop a sense of mastery and control over the issue. Smaller items are easier to manage than the overwhelming whole. You might be able to fine-tune your struggle into more specific areas by doing this exercise than how it felt ahead of time.
For example, “I’m scared of everything” – a vague, over-whelming, sweeping out-of-control feeling – could become “I’m afraid of specific item A, specific item B, and specific situation C.” By definition, you can start to consciously realize and remember that there are lots of “everythings” in the world that are not specifically A, B, or C. Pinpointing troubled areas helps you to know there are other areas that are not a problem. That’s a good thing. Finding safety somewhere is better than feeling afraid “everywhere”.
It is best to complete the list in one sitting, if at all possible. Write your answers as quickly as possible, and don’t worry if an answer gets repeated more than once. The repetition of an answer can imply that that particular issue is truly bigger than many of the other issues listed.
Remember to pay attention to your own emotional saturation point. While this journaling exercise is intended to help you gain mastery over difficult topics, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed from pulling up too much at once, immediately step back for a few minutes and take a breather. Get grounded again before you start to work on it more. You might consider dividing your topic into an even smaller focus area, or you might purposefully start and stop a few times, just to keep more stabilized.
Once you have completed your lists of reasons, be sure to read over it a few times. When you are looking at it from a whole, you might see different things than when you were inching through the individual points. You might find several repeating themes, or whole new areas of thought that you hadn’t expected to surface. Be sure to discuss your findings with your therapist, especially when you learn new bits of information.
To make this an exercise in system communication, allow and encourage the other parts of your system to participate in the making of the list of 100 things. Individual parts can each have their own lists, or they can put their name / initials beside their contributions to the group lists. Or use this exercise to focus questions more in the directions of system work. For example:
- What are 100 kind things I can say or do for my inner kid parts this week?
- What are 100 areas of conversation that we as a system can talk about?
- What are 100 activities I want to do with my inner people?
- What are 100 things we can do in our internal world to make our internal landscape more pleasing and comfortable for us?
- What are 100 things that I hear from inside today?
These kinds of exercises, whether done on paper, or within your internal committee meetings can give you a format, a method, or a starting place to help you hear and understand your other system members.
Remember, developing good, effective internal communication is the key to your healing.
Kathy Broady LCSW